PCM Plays Quarterback In NFL Stadiums

Building a wireless network to support 80,000 fans inside historic Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, is no walk in the park.

’You don’t just tack up access points in the bowl of Lambeau Field and call it a day,’ said Brian York, senior vice president of the Endpoint Technology Group and Stadium Practice for El Segundo, Calif.-based solution provider PCM. ’We design it. We implement it. We manage the project. We have folks in the field and on the ground.’

Channel partners are playing a significant role inside some of the world’s largest sporting venues by designing, deploying and monitoring networking solutions in stadiums that play host to the most popular NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA teams.

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’Most professional sports organizations are not big businesses, in fact, they’re small business and typically family owned. So the level of investment that they have in IT personnel isn’t like an enterprise company,’ said York.

The $2 billion solution provider works alongside Extreme Networks – the official Wi-Fi and analytics provider for the NFL -- to provide solutions and services to teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals.

A major initiative is currently underway in the NFL to significantly improve networking inside stadiums to enhance the fan experience, which plays right into the hands of channel partners, said Norman Rice, executive vice president of global marketing, corporate development, and Extreme Networks’ Stadium & Venue Business Unit.

Rice said under the leadership of Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL is trying to make the in-game experience more like home where people are constantly checking fantasy sports and social media.

’So one of the things on the NFL’s list was connectivity,’ said Rice. ’So the clubs were told they needed to own and understand these [technology] platforms because that’s the future. So Extreme stepped into that mix and we use a few channel partners for our go-to-market in the venue space like PCM and Carousel Industries.’

Design And Implementation

From an initial design and implementation perspective, PCM has a small, highly trained core stadium team. The group works closely with both the vendor and the sports IT team to provide guidance on how to design a wireless network in an extremely dense environment. On average, York said, there is roughly one access point for every 100 people, meaning a NFL stadium could have upwards of 1,000 APs.

One difficult stadium design in particular stands out to York -- Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

’Because it’s a national historic site, we had to be very deliberate in how we went about the implementation. It was very meticulous,’ said York. ’The design was done for coverage but also for specs -- we needed to make sure we minimize the impact on the classic building that is surrounded by the modern Lambeau Field.’

Game Day Coverage

PCM provides a local team onsite and on the ground during an NFL game. The solution provider also monitors all the infrastructure remotely from one of its two network operations centers.

’We are monitoring for coverage, performance, throughput and analytics constantly during the event -- both remotely and onsite,’ said York.

In some cases, PCM also provides the Wi-Fi technology to the teams’ concierge services.

The vendors typically do not provide staff onsite during a game, according to York, although PCM works with the NFL’s IT staff. ’Typically the NFL has onsite what’s called a ’frequency coordinator’ that’s assigned to the game and we work in conjunction with them,’ he said.

A significant difference from providing solutions and services for the NFL, compared to a large enterprise, is that the network connectivity during a game must be flawless.

’It’s one thing to design a corporate setting network … we operate in an industry that has 10 event days a year and it must be perfect for each of those days – bar none,’ said York.

York expects technology to play an increasing role inside sports venues, as well as on the field. Rice estimates the sporting venues market in the U.S. alone is around $1.5 billion and says channel partners will continue to play a critical role in the industry.

’Solution providers are the ones providing services with the local relationships with these teams,’ said Rice. ’It’s an excellent opportunity for partners.’